Pinot Evolution

Pinot Noir is the McDaddy of wine grapes – and that’s supposed to be quite literally. Some time back I was listening to grape radio, and they featured a symposium on Pinot Noir where it was said that the oldest vines in the world, discovered in archaeological sites and then tested, were most similar to Pinot Noir – placing it in the same class as Australopithecus (perhaps a brand idea there. Australopithecus Pinot Noir. perhaps not!)

We take clones from vines, because the seeds will only produce a genetic mix of the plant the seed-bearing vine and the male plant which fertilised the seeds with its pollen. To get an exact replica – we need to take a cutting and graft it onto root-stock. Anyone who has ever tried out their green thumb at college whilst cultivating non-medical marijuana will be well acquainted with this process!

So, it stands to reason that nearly all varietals are derivative of Pinot Noir and have evolved over thousands of years of not only by natural selection – but farmer’s intervention as well. I’m sorry to break it to any wine-creationists out there that all the vines in the world didn’t just miraculously appear – but that’s what botany tells us anyway, and it’s generally wise to give science the last word!

As Pinot Noir is thought to be the source of all things winey, this particular article: The Grapevine Genome Sequenced, is rather interesting as it comments on the genetic sequencing of Pinot Noir. A few commentators weren’t quite sure how they felt about it – however, its been known for a while that certain farmers began splicing rat genes into tomatoes a while back in order to save tomatoes from being susceptible to frost (obviously this is part true, part urban legend.) I don’t see the problem really – for places like South Africa, which battle with leaf-roll virus – or others that are threatened by Phyloxeras or horn-beetle or harsh tannins etc. Imagine we could make all vines seedless – this would greatly reduce bitter tannins released in careless crushing. We could even make grapes less susceptible to oxidization and microbes, and reduce the need for using S02 – making red wines more accessible and less tannic.

However – where do we stop? Will wine-makers be Willy Wonkas, with Umpa-Lumpa’s crushing the grapes and fantastical scientists making wine that tastes amazing in curious and fantastic ways, with oenophiles waiting to get into the special wineries, where passage is given only to those who have a bottle with a golden screw-cap?

I’ve read a few articles about nano-technology’s potential implications on food and wine. Its hard to know what to say about this without getting into slippery slope arguments where people may forecast the end of wine as we know it if we permit too much tampering. However – if we consider that all wines are derivative of Pinot Noir, then it would seem that nature has done a lot of its own tampering, and its probably worth buying a lot of wine now and lying it on its side, because its going to be very interesting to compare the taste of now, to that of the rapidly approaching future.

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